CEOs swap boardroom for busing

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CEOs swap boardroom for busing


From left: Sixteen CEOs that took part in Amcham’s CEO Servers’ Night pose at the Conrad Seoul Hotel in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Tuesday. President Amit Laroya of 3M Korea serves a table of the company’s staff at the charity event. [AMCHAM]

On Tuesday evening, 16 men and women donned white aprons and gathered in the grand hall of the Conrad Seoul Hotel in Yeouido, western Seoul. The black bow ties and white shirts indicated that they were waiters for a party in the hall later that night, but this wasn’t your usual group of servers.

“Remember the ‘right way’: you always serve a guest from the right side with the right hand; even when you hold two plates, the left always waits with the next plate to be handed to the right,” said their instructor for the night, the senior manager of Conrad Seoul Hotel’s ballrooms. “And most importantly - always smile.”

His trainees that night weren’t typical waiters, but the CEOs of global companies in Korea. The 16 CEOs were preparing for the CEO Servers’ Night, an annual charity event hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea. This year’s event, running for its 14th year, set a record of 16 companies and 230 guests, mainly the employees of the CEOs involved. Last year only eight companies took part.

When the clock struck 7 p.m., the waiters entered the hall to start taking drink orders. Gone was the class and elegance that the Conrad hotel brand is known for - the grand hall quickly descended into chaos as a cacophony of noise washed over the guests. The CEOs were struggling to remember the drink orders.

The pristine white tablecloths were soon covered with red spots as clumsy hands delivered wine to the tables. Guests, unconcerned that their champagne glasses were unevenly filled, enjoyed the opportunity to take photos of the CEOs waiting tables.

Managing Director Darren Krakowiak of CBRE Korea confessed that he cheated and eventually switched to his left hand to serve. “I still came in on the right side [of the guests]. And I didn’t spill anything, so that’s good,” he said.

Some of the servers were a little more experienced than the rest. “This is my third time serving at this event,” said Oh Dong-wook, country manager for Pfizer Korea. “I think I’ve got better at serving more people in a shorter amount of time this year.”

Oh had to serve the largest table among his peers that night because Pfizer invited 42 people, a record for this year’s event.

Among the companies that joined for the first time this year were McDonald’s Korea and ABI Korea, the parent company of Oriental Brewery. ABI also offered an unlimited supply of Stella Artois.

“[The experience] is like a metaphor of what we as leaders should do for our employees and our organization,” said CEO Bruno Cosentino of ABI Korea.

Another notable factor was who came from each company. Half of Nike Korea’s guests were shop-floor employees from different branches that had been recommended by their managers. McDonald’s Korea invited employees from branches that received the most customer compliments.

“Our CEO did a really good job, she smiled the whole time and made eye contact with every one of us,” said 45-year-old Sohn Seong-hee, who has worked part-time at a McDonald’s branch near her house for eight years.

The CEOs-turned-waiters delivered food and drinks to their tables for the duration of the event, stopping to chat with their guests as they went. Amcham prepared a goody box for each table, while a lucky draw at the end of the evening saw 30 lucky guests walk away with prizes ranging from coffee machines to a luxury German stroller.

The other companies that took part in the event were Kim&Chang, 3M Korea, Asia Tigers Transpack, Colliers International Korea, Dell EMC Korea, FedEx Express Korea, JSM, Kelly Services, Lee & Ko and Morgan Stanley.

A total of 50 million won ($46,112) was donated. The money will be used as a scholarship fund for university students from families experiencing financial difficulties.

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